Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Honors Reads on Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez (with Prof. Michael Sweet)

The Honors Program at American River Program is doing an Honors Reads, in which the Honors students and faculty explore one book together. This semester's book is John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

The journey of John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in the Sea of Cortez makes a great interdisciplinary read. In this perspective from James Kingland in The Guardian:
If you think you might like your science mixed with beer, seafood and philosophy, read John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, an account of a six-week collecting expedition in the Gulf of California with his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts (who should really be credited as the co-author) and a small crew.
You might want to know not only about the taxonomy and ecology of the marine invertebrates they found in the intertidal zone, but also the sensory experience of collecting them from their natural environment. You might want to know about the personalities of the writers' fellow crew members, or even the temperament of the outboard motor that seemed to rouse itself only when there wasn't too far to go.
Prof. Michael Sweet (Biology, ARC), who teaches marine biology, gave a talk on the science perspective about the Sea of Cortez
Michael described some of the marine life that Steinbeck and Ricketts would find on their journey in the Sea of Cortez.

During his talk Michael included some excerpts from the Sea of Cortez.

More fun marine life shared by Michael:

The feared pistol shrimp

And the Cormorants trained to go fishing

Michael mentioned that he wants to infuse his Monterey Bay field trips with Steinbeck and Ricketts. He shared a photo from one of his marine biology field trips with his students.
Source: Michael Sweet

Michael also plans to take his students on a tour of the Ricketts lab near the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Source: Michael Sweet

Michael also engaged our group with a marine biology classification game to give us a feel for the field work thinking that Ricketts and his team would carry out. Which group does this specimen belong to?

Michael discussed the results of our marine biology classification game. Some of our picks were correct; some were not. 

With this introduction to the marine biology that flows through the Sea of Cortez, why would Steinbeck and Ricketts spend their time doing "basic science" work?

The Honors Reads conversation continues in October with Prof. Christian Kiefer (English, ARC).


Michael's talk sparked Joan Brenchley-Jackson (Biology, ARC) to share another expedition by the California Academy of Sciences to the Galapagos Islands in 1905-1906. The specimens collected from this journey are still valuable for evolutionary biology research today. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Get your ARC Science fix! The Physics/Astronomy lecture lunch series is back

The ARC Physics/Astronomy Lunch Lecture Series is back in session, and the first speaker was Astronomy Prof. Paulo Afonso, who described his work last summer with NASA's GAVRT (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope). GAVRT is one of several radio antennas in the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex (GDSCC).

 Source: GAVRT images

The Lewis Center for Educational Research (LCER) provides professional development for educators so that their students can remotely operate the GAVRT 34 meter radio antenna and learn how to analyze the astronomical data stream. GAVRT has been used to investigate planets, such as Jupiter and Uranus, and distant space objects, such as quasars and pulsars. Educators and students get the opportunity to do hands-on, authentic science!

Paulo mentioned Jupiter Quest, one of the long-lived curriculum campaigns by GAVRT, in which students investigate the radio antenna data from Jupiter to learn more about this large mysterious planet. 

A current Jupiter Quest curriculum project involves student collaboration with the NASA Juno spacecraft, scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2016.

Another program involving GAVRT is SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), in which the radio telescope scans for extraterrestrial radio signals. GAVRT provides an overview of the SETI project and lessons on how to use GAVRT for detecting radio signals that may be of extraterrestrial origin.

Paulo described another radio astronomy project done on a global scope, Hands-On Universe, which engages teachers and students with hands-on operation of radio telescopes and analysis of radio antenna data.

Don't miss the lunchtime science fun! You can view the Physics/Astronomy lecture schedule - Wednesdays at noon in Room 307.

Other notes:

1. Paulo also mentioned the larger 70 meter Goldstone radio antenna in the GDSCC that has served as the workhorse for important space missions, including Voyager and Mars Curiosity.

The Goldstone antenna also tracked the asteroid 1998 QE2, which passed by close to earth this past May. 

2. W00t! FOOD IS WELCOME in the Physics classroom during lecture :)

By contrast, Biology classrooms have "NO FOOD ALLOWED" signs :(

Here's another picture of Paulo Afonso w/ some members of the Biology Gang. Thanks, Paulo!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wacky student stories that turn out to be true

Sometimes the wacky stories that students share turn out to be still crazy but also true. A biotech student shared this with me:

Source: did you know?


I did some Google searching, and traced the story to the High Plains Reader, which reported this strange incident from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Then I found the story in the local newspaper the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in which Dr. Andrew Goldberg shares the story of a middle-aged man who cured himself of his chronic ear infection by taking the earwax from his good ear and transferring it to his infected ear. The earwax transplant cured him.

Dr. Goldberg didn't believe the man back then, but now he thinks the patient may have been correct. From the news story:
By putting earwax from one ear into the other, he was also transferring the bacterial colonies from the healthy ear into the sick one, and that probably cured his persistent infections.
So after finding this information, I replied to the student...on Facebook (#OMG), since she posted the story there and tagged me:
The earwax story at first seemed too crazy to be true, but I was able to track it down to the Univ. Pittsburgh. Apparently, this could be an example of the microbiome cure - using bacteria from the earwax to treat an infection. Gross, but less so than fecal transplants, which are all the rage.

College Hour with artist Josie Iselin: An Ocean Garden

American River College had a wonderful College Hour talk by artist Josie Iselin, who beautifully blends art and science in her work. Josie presented her latest collection, An Ocean Garden, which highlights the delicate elegance of seaweed.
September 12, 2013 - College Hour | Raef Hall 160
An Ocean Garden: Science in Art
Josie Iselin is the photographer, author and designer of seven books, with new projects in development in her San Francisco studio, Loving Blind Productions. Her books focus on those forms in nature we find at hand and in particular, at the beach. Her mission is to produce enticing, original and well-designed books that combine art and science, leaving the reader with new information about, and an appreciation for, the world around them.

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In 2012 Rick Topinka (Biology, ARC) and Josie both attended Jepson Herbarium workshop Seaweeds of Central California, and Rick gave a Biology department talk last year about his experience at the four-day workshop.

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Artist Josie Iselin's talk

At the College Hour talk Rick introduced Josie. 

Josie was trained in photography, with a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard and an MFA from San Francisco State University. Her current artistic work uses a flatbed scanner and computer to create her imagery.

Josie gave us a behind-the-scenes look at her artist studio. 

Her work table...

And her flatbed scanner and computer...

Josie showed us some of her captivating seaweed images from her upcoming book An Ocean Garden.

Bonnemaisonia californica

Smithora naiadum & Gregia menziesii

Ulva lobata

Nereocystis luetkeana

You can view more of her portfolio at
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Rick Topinka and Josie Iselin

Josie does a book signing for College Hour!

Her forthcoming book An Ocean Garden will be ready in February/March 2014.

Update: The ARC Current (the college newspaper) published an article on Josie Iselin's talk

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Club Friday! My day with student clubs at American River College

Last week I attended two science-based student clubs on the American River College (ARC) campus, the Biotech Club and the Research Club.

I'm the Faculty Advisor for the ARC Biotech Club, and we started to get organized for the semester by selecting our club officers.

I also attended the ARC Research Club. Shih-Wen Young (Physics), the Faculty Advisor, helped students start the club last spring, and I serve as the Co-Advisor for the club.

At last week's meeting, the Research Club officers described the activities for the fall semester. 

Here's more information about the Brainwave Visualizer, which graphically represents your brain activity in real time.

So why should we support student clubs?

1. Clubs give students more hands-on experience with what we learn in the classroom.

2. Clubs give students opportunities to share and outreach to the community.

3. And we go on cool field trips!

In case you are interested:

The ARC Biotech Club meets 12 - 1 pm in Room 490 on Fridays

The ARC Research Club meets 3 - 4 pm in Room 307 on Fridays

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Microbiology students create Stackobacillus

The BIOL440 microbiology students are studying bacterial cellular morphology.

From Wikipedia

The microbiology students during lab invented a new arrangement of bacteria: 

How the professor views Stackobacillus, as modeled by staining trays...


How students view Stackobacillus, as modeled by staining trays...


How the professor now views Stackobacillus...


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ARC Town Hall wrap-up: What ARC values in the next college President

Last Friday (September 6) American River College had a campus Town Hall meeting to get ideas about what to look for in the next college President. The Town Hall was full as the campus faculty and staffed offered their suggestions in an IBA (Interest-Based Approach) format.

Chris Iwata, Dean of Humanities & Fine Arts from Sacramento City College, facilitated the Town Hall, as his staff team collected our ideas on poster-sized white papers.

 Brandon Muranaka (Math) in discussion with Chris Iwata

In a previous post I proposed what I hope the Science Division can accomplish with the new President (and from the email responses I received, this view is shared by others in Science - thank you!). The Interest Based Approach addresses issues by emphasizing shared interests or values in the group rather than specific actions. So the IBA format turned out not to be the appropriate context to express Science-specific projects (new and/or improved laboratory space and updated equipment/supplies to support our laboratory space). However, the campus expressed several values that support our specific actions to better support our Science students.

Below are the Town Hall ideas about our campus values and interests in the next ARC President.